Jeep just turned 75, and to celebrate we met up with the iconic off-road brand to take on some rugged terrain at its spiritual home in Utah.
It’s been 75 years since the first Willys MB was built for the US Army in 1941 (even before the Jeep name came into being), and since then, there have been very few cars better suited to take on the rough stuff. Jeep’s landmark celebrations included a drive through some amazing off-road trails located around the town of Moab in Utah, along with getting our hands on its latest concepts as well as some of the most important historic models – a proper past, present and future of Jeep, if you will.
Ghosts of Jeep Present
Moab is home to some of the most incredible terrains in the world. You see canyons carved by the Colorado River and gorgeous rock formations hundreds of millions of years old, among which you can find evidence of dinosaur, as well as primitive life that lived there. The perfect location with some really challenging terrain. No wonder the place plays host to the Moab Jeep Safari each year.
We got to experience this unique terrain driving Jeep’s 75th anniversary models of the Wrangler, Grand Cherokee and the Renegade as well. Traversing sand, dirt and even some proper rocks which required crawling over provided no challenge for the Wrangler, with its massive ground clearance, capable 4WD system and powerful 3.6-litre V6 petrol motor. But then again, the Wrangler does score pretty high on the company’s ‘Trail Rating’. The surprising part was just how easily the Grand Cherokee kept up with the Wrangler though. Even though its Trail Rating was significantly lower, it negotiated the terrain without breaking a sweat – far more capable than any other luxury SUV in the market. But the shocker of the day was the Renegade, which even with its smaller 2.4-litre engine, low ground clearance and no Trail Rating at all was still able to make it over the same trails. More on that later.
Ghosts of Jeep Future
Day two was spent at the ranch getting some wheel time behind the 2016 Easter Jeep Concepts. Now these cars are hardly concepts in the purest sense of the word, where designers and engineers show off what the future possibly holds. Jeep’s Easter Concepts are all about letting loose and are pretty much an excuse for the team to channel their inner mad scientist.
The Trailcat is a perfect case in point. It might have started off as a Wrangler, but the final avatar, jacked up and stretched in all three dimensions, is the very definition of looney. And it’s not the lack of roof or real doors that I’m talking about; it’s what’s under the hood. It packs a 6.2-litre Hemi V8 motor from the Dodge Challenger Hellcat that makes 707hp. Every time you floor the throttle, the chassis squirms, unable to handle all that power, and the Trailcat bucks up violently with a massive roar from its fairly non-existent mufflers.
Trailcat is a testament to the madness of Jeep’s engineers.
But my very favourite has to be the FC-150 concept. With an actual 1960s Forward Control body (with all its dents, scars and rust still intact) plonked on to a 2005 Wrangler chassis, it was one of the most unique vehicles present at Moab. To drive home its ‘working-class hero’ theme, the interiors were adorned with a vintage duck- print roof liner, a CB radio, a packet of cigarettes tucked away in the dashboard, a coffee mug in the middle and even some parking tickets tucked away in the sun visor. Brilliant!
Ghosts of Jeep Past
The 75th anniversary celebrations wouldn’t really be complete without sampling some of the cars responsible for putting Jeep on the map. And that meant driving a genuine 1945 Willys MB in its original olive-drab garb or getting behind the wheel of a 1945 CJ-2A, which was the first civilian model Jeep. The 1973 CJ-5, which was the precursor to the modern-day Wrangler, with a V8 motor at that, showed just how much things changed for the Willys over the years as it became part of the mainstream automobile space. The CJ-5 truly was a delight to drive and still felt quick in today’s day and age. Apart from these, we also got a chance to see (and drive) the evolution of the modern-day SUV, through Jeep’s eyes of course. Starting with the 1949 Willys Wagon (the first steel-bodied station wagon), to the highly popular 1983 Jeep Cherokee SJ and on to the 1984 Jeep Cherokee XJ (the first four-door with a unibody construction) as well as the 1991 Grand Wagoneer (the first real luxury SUV). The grand history tour came to an end with the 1993 Jeep Grand Cherokee, which was the starting point for the current Grand Cherokee.
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